Back in June 2010, Bill Maher the somewhat funny comedian wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about why people don’t believe in Global Warming. He starts his diatribe like this.
New Rule: Al Gore must come out with a sequel to his movie about climate change and call it, An Inconvenient Truth 2: What the F*ck Is Wrong with You People?
He later continues to explain why people don’t believe in Global warming, claiming that the problem is found in the media’s attempt at presenting both sides of the story, to which he thinks there is only one side.
That’s the problem with our obsession with always seeing two sides of every issue equally — especially when one side has a lot of money. It means we have to pretend there are always two truths, and the side that doesn’t know anything has something to say. On this side of the debate: Every scientist in the world. On the other: Mr. Potato Head. (bold emphasis mine)
There is no debate here — just scientists vs. non-scientists, and since the topic is science, the non-scientists don’t get a vote. We shouldn’t decide everything by polling the masses. Just because most people believe something doesn’t make it true. This is the fallacy called argumentum ad numeram: the idea that something is true because great numbers believe it.
What Bill Maher doesn’t realize; he is Mr. Potato Head. He is the same kind of “uneducated” talking potato head as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and other entertainers that have an audience and therefore think they actually know something. He is the de facto personalization of “argumentum ad numeram” expressed as millions of people listen to him because he is a comedian, and therefore he thinks he has credibility on political issues.
In his rant, for that is all he ever does, he uses a faulty headline – “TV weathercasters divided on global warming.” – to describe his TV weatherperson as a big breasted bimbo actress lacking credentials to speak on the global warming debate. Truthfully, the headline was poorly worded; it should have read “Climatologists divided on global warming”. So Maher takes a faulty headline and bases his argument on it, leading his uneducated followers to think he somehow brilliant and worthy of a read. However, not all TV weatherpersons are climatologists, and not all climatologists are bimbos. In fact, not all big breasted women are stupid either, but in an effort to get laughs, the comedian Maher reduces his diatribe to the absurd, a typical technique for stand up comedy. If he is willing to do that with some of the facts in his writing, we must question all of his writing. Additionally, if we believe Maher that we should not trust pretty soap opera actors, why should we trust other actors on their pronouncements of political policy, even those who agree with Maher. And if we can’t trust actors, surely we should not trust comedians, even if they do have talk shows on HBO.
There are several components to the debate on Global Warming, and he addresses none of them directly. This world is billions of years old and during these billions of years the earth has passed through several warming and cooling periods. The human industrial effect on the climate of this world is less than 200 years old, with the worst of it less than 60 years old, really just a blip in the age of the earth. Are humans so self-important that they think they are going to ruin this planet? They/we may ruin it for us, but the planet will live on.
All the dire predictions of rising sea levels (not unprecedented in the earth’s history) and other negative effects due to global warming are based on computer models that may or may not account for all the relative factors. Human prediction of the future is a very imprecise process. Even computer modeling is so new that it has no long term track record.
Much of the hyperbole surrounding global warming is political rather than factual. Political correctness to move people to hybrid cars or solar panels does well to promote a few industries, but how is that different than promoting the oil industry? It is not, unless you really believe one industry is morally superior to the other. Typically distinct industries are not more or less moral than others, for all have profit as a motive, and when they grow large they tend to have a greater and greater affect their environments, both physical and political.
Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” has a religious tone and feel to it that relies more on the emotion it evokes than scientific facts. Many of the people that have worked to popularize the global warming doomsayers have that same religious zeal, a zeal that I would compare to millennialism. It is really the same message, repent now for the world is going to end, but for the global warming advocates the repentance comes in the form of repenting from the use of burning fuels that produce carbon emissions, rather that personal moral wrongdoing. Although many of the most extreme fundamentalist eco-freaks do characterize driving a car as immoral.
So as a non-scientist, yet a skeptic, I am left with more questions than answers on this whole global warming debate. I wonder if this is just a vestige of the Christian stewardship over the earth ethic, or if there is a real problem that we as humankind has caused and can actually correct. Right now I am doubtful that human activity is really negatively affecting the earth anymore than gophers do when they dig holes in the lawn. After all, gophers are an inconvenient truth of the world too, and we have seen in the past how another comedian named Bill dealt with those.